Pakistan hits back at US critics with a show of national unity

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The Independent Online

Pushing back against American pressure, Pakistan has angrily rejected allegations that it was behind a series of terrorist attacks that recently rocked Kabul as it also sent a message that it would bitterly resist any potential aggression on its soil.

After being locked behind closed doors for several hours, Pakistan's political and military leaders emerged with a unanimous statement that sought to demonstrate national unity in the face of the fiercest criticism Washington has levelled at its nominal south Asian ally over the past decade.

"[We reject] the recent assertions and baseless allegations made against Pakistan," the statement said. "Such assertions are without substance and derogatory to a partnership approach." The statement also warned that any violation of "Pakistan's sovereignty and its territorial integrity" would not be tolerated.

The nationalistic ardour was prompted by a series of statements by top US officials accusing Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of supporting attacks by the notorious Haqqani network on the US embassy in Kabul and elsewhere in the Afghan capital in recent weeks.

Washington has now altered course and is trying to quietly backtrack on the remarks that were seen is Pakistan as potential threats of unilateral military action. Western officials concede that the outbursts of "high emotion" were the result of frustration with Pakistan. It may now have to pursue a more delicate course.

At the same time, Pakistan has taken the controversial decision to shift its national strategy from fighting militants to starting a process of negotiating peace deals with them. To that end, the political leaders, urged on by the former cricketer Imran Khan, invoked John Lennon. "Give peace a chance", the political leaders agreed, will now be their guiding principle.

Instead of mounting a military offensive in North Waziristan, a hornets' nest of militants including the Haqqani network and the Pakistani Taliban, the political leaders of Islamabad said they wanted to start "negotiating peace with our own people in the tribal areas".

The move will be a blow to American hopes. For years now, Washington has been coaxing Islamabad to take on the Haqqanis in North Waziristan, the only one of the seven tribal area that remains untouched by Pakistan's military.